Editorial: Spitzer’s Plan

Make no mistake: Eliot Spitzer has a plan, and it involves more than being the next comptroller of New York City. He wants to be mayor.

If Mr. Spitzer has his way, he’ll spend the next four years torturing the next mayor. He’ll order up audits intended to generate headlines, he’ll hold up contracts, he’ll denounce the mayor—regardless of party, because these things don’t matter to Mr. Spitzer—with the same contempt he once reserved for Wall Streeters and political opponents.

And then he’ll pounce. Get ready for Eliot Spitzer’s 2017 mayoral campaign. It’s already begun.

That’s the plan, and if you don’t believe it, you’re not giving Mr. Spitzer enough credit for unbridled ambition, absolute self-righteousness and gimlet-eyed cynicism.

The notion of Mr. Spitzer returned to elective office is as nauseating as his faux populist television commercials, spots that would have you believe that hardworking New Yorkers are beside themselves with joy as they prepare to welcome back their “old friend” Eliot Spitzer.

Any disgraced candidate who would approve such a message is capable of calculations that make House of Cards seem like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Mr. Spitzer’s ambitions have all kinds of implications for New York government over the next four years. The next mayor will have to be strong enough—intellectually, politically and in every other way—to withstand the bombardment of publicity-seeking missiles. Mr. Spitzer will use every means at his disposal to make budgets look bad and contracts seem corrupt, all with the aim of promoting his own mayoral ambitions.

Because of the office’s auditing powers, the comptroller has real influence, far more than the public advocate or even the council speaker. In the right hands, the comptroller’s office can be a useful monitor of the city’s finances and a capable check on any fiscal funny business the mayor or Council might be considering.

In the hands of somebody like Mr. Spitzer, however, those powers can be instruments of torture to be used against whoever stands in Mr. Spitzer’s way. The next mayor will fit that description simply by showing up for work.

To get a sense of how a comptroller can politicize the office, consider the tenure of the man Mr. Spitzer wants to succeed, John Liu. Just the other day, a furious Mayor Bloomberg filed a lawsuit against Mr. Liu because the comptroller has been holding up two contracts for one simple reason: he can.

The details of the contracts are less important than the bigger picture, but they do bear summarizing. The city wishes to contract with a private firm to operate homeless shelters in the Bronx and Manhattan. The contractor, a company led by a former Bloomberg official, would receive more than $67 million. Mr. Liu rejected the contracts three weeks ago, claiming that they were vague—and in the process, he took a shot at Mr. Bloomberg’s homeless policies.

That’s just the sort of mindless politicking that we can expect out of Comptroller Spitzer’s office. The question is whether the next mayor will have the nerve, gumption and political will to take on Mr. Spitzer.

Mr. Bloomberg and his aides certainly have what it takes to make Mr. Liu look like the panderer he is. One of Mr. Bloomberg’s aides called the comptroller’s actions “a joke.” That’s the sort of counteroffensive his successor will need to mount.

Another example of a strong mayor resisting the ambitious agenda of a would-be challenger occurred back in the 1980s. Then-Comptroller Harrison “Jay” Goldin drove Ed Koch to distraction with audits and other fiscal criticism. Some of Mr. Goldin’s audits and investigations may have been useful, but Mr. Koch generally didn’t see it that way.

The Koch-Goldin conflict was a battle between two smart, ambitious politicians, with Mr. Koch generally getting the better of it. But it required all of the late mayor’s toughness to counter Mr. Goldin and defend his budgets and fiscal priorities.

Will the next mayor have the desire, power and intelligence to battle Eliot Spitzer for the next four years? A lot more than re-election will be at stake. Mr. Spitzer would bring government to a grinding halt if he thought it would enhance his ambitions and make the new mayor look bad. That would be disastrous for all those New Yorkers who consider Mr. Spitzer an “old friend.” But if dysfunction, gridlock and chaos weaken the mayor and further Mr. Spitzer’s ambitions, well, so be it.

Eliot Spitzer remains as arrogant, haughty and demagogic as he was during his years as attorney general and governor, when he pilloried Wall Street and spied on political opponents.

Regrettably, he has the resources to purchase the support he needs in the only race he could win this year and to begin looking at bigger things.

The mayoral candidates need to take the measure of this disreputable character. He will make the next mayor’s life miserable—and will be more than happy to bring an end to the next mayor’s administration.

Eliot Spitzer really is that cynical. The record speaks for itself.